mess and beauty

The retreat booklet read:

900P — Paint Prep (not stressful)

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100P — SESSION/Paint (not stressful)

The “(not stressful)” was somewhat concerning, but at 9 Friday night, as we divided ourselves around six canvasses of various sizes, I tried to be obediently not stressed. The person who created the schedule for this women’s retreat is one of My People and I’m an obliger anyway, so I waited for instruction.

The plan was this: each table got a set of plastic cutlery, a spatula, a Styrofoam cup. Somebody would come to dump a blob of plaster mixed with water and glue on our canvas. We were to play with it and create texture.

Oh, also, each of the canvasses was to correspond to a particular character trait. (We got “unity.”)

My obliging nature goes only so far. My trust in my friend’s planning goes much farther, but still. When somebody glops runny goo onto a canvas in front of me and hands me a spatula and tells me to make unity with a handful of people previously unknown to me, I’m way outside of comfort. I concentrated on my breathing and playing with the corner of the canvas that was mine. (Yes, for unity, we sort of ended up each playing with our own segregated quarter of the canvas with our various tools. The irony was not lost on us.) The goo was fun, and at the end of prep, it actually looked pretty cool. Plus, with the swirl we added, somewhat communicated unity, so I held it together and even enjoyed myself.

The following afternoon, we gathered again around our now-textured canvases. We were handed three tubes of acrylic paint (red, dark red, red-orange at our table), a variety of paintbrushes, a cup of water, some paper towels and told to have fun. Again, I came in “not stressed” in compliance with instructions, but somewhere between the near-identical tubes of paint and the “have fun” my anxiety started rise.

Let me just spoil it for you: it was fine. And, once I got into it, fun.

And there was no way for it to not work out.

See, my friend delegated the art segments of the retreat to somebody with far more knowledge than I have. She knew she was working with a bunch of women who may or may not have any experience at all (many of whom are mothers who reflexively panic when goop and paint end up where they weren’t before) and prepared accordingly.

Something that felt weird and messy and stressful to me turned out to be lovely.

How often does this happen?

I have a bunch of seemingly random circumstances in front of me. I have no idea how they’re going to come together, but I’m pretty sure it’s a mess waiting to happen and I’m going to destroy this lovely blank canvas (of  a project or a day or a child or whatever I tend to put in the “blank canvas that I’m going to screw up” spot).

But as I listen to the One giving instructions and just do the thing He tells me to do, even if it’s a gooey mess, something lovely happens. The outcome depends less on me than it the One who designed the project. Yes, I’m involved. The end product looks different because I contributed, and I can be pleased with it. But the success is ultimately not mine—I’m just happy I get to be here.

Maybe next time, I can actually be not stressed.

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how I quit struggling with my weight

Hey, friends! Once again, my piece is live on Kindred Mom. Click here to read the whole thing or read an excerpt below.

“Well, she’s a little heavier than I like to see for her length. Let’s talk about some strategies to handle this. Obesity is a serious health issue, so we want to nip it in the bud.”

I was present at this conversation, but I have no memory of it. I only know the bare details my mom told me, so this is conjecture. I was the pudgy “she” in question.

I was eight weeks old.

My mom, a first-timer at 28, took in the information Dr. Maples was giving. He had letters after his name. She had only been parenting for two months. Her gut said I was a baby and ought to be fed when I was hungry, but he had the experience to know. She did what I would have done in the same situation: she listened to the friendly, grandfatherly man in the white coat who treated hundreds of babies a year…

Read the rest here.

confessions of a high-maintenance mom

Hi! In a funny scheduling fluke, I ended up on Kindred  Mom with the last essay of January and the first essay of February. 

Double feature! 

You can read the whole piece here or continue on for an excerpt.


“So… dinner tomorrow. Any allergies? Restrictions? Strong preferences?”

“Nah. We’re pretty low-maintenance.”

I’ve had this conversation dozens of times over the years. In this case, we’d had this family over once, decided to make it a regular thing, and were about to head to their house for the first time. We both have relatively large families, but aside from sheer volume of food, all fourteen of us are easy enough to feed.

***

I’ve tried to be low-maintenance in as many areas as possible for as long as I can remember. It has its perks—I like being easy-to-get-along-with. It’s nice to be able to go with the flow, to be free of strong aversions. (Except scary movies. Hard pass.) But it has a shadow side, too. In the name of being low-maintenance, I’ve served others’ needs while completely ignoring my own.

Baby’s crying? I’ll go get her. No sense in you waking up when I’m gonna have to feed her anyway.

MAN, I’m hungry. Did I eat lunch? No, I don’t think so. Do six cold, half-eaten nuggets count?

Wow, it got late. But there are still chores to do. No biggie—I’ve been sleep-deprived since 2010. What’s one more hour folding laundry and washing dishes?

As I say it, I realize I sound like a martyr. I didn’t know, though. I thought I was being kind. Selfless. Serving. Those are good things, right? But I missed the growing resentment and the toll it was taking on my physical and mental health.

There were a lot of things I missed, actually… (read the rest here.)

free to quit

Hey, friends! I’m at Kindred Mom today, this time as a quitter. This is an excerpt. read the whole thing here. 


I am sweating. The not-so-tiny infant inside my enormous body and the church sanctuary with poor air handling combine to make me regret my choice to abandon my typical mom-bun and wear my long hair down. It’s sticking to my neck and face. More bothersome than the heat and my crazy hormones is the strain of parenting. I managed to herd them to the service on my own, but now I am in the very front row at church. This is where my mother-in-law sits. Because my husband is perpetually in the back at the soundboard, the prospect of extra grownup hands to wrangle my girls outweighs my general aversion to being in the front row. My 2- and 3-year-old girls are squirmy and whisper loudly at inappropriate times. They tap my hugely pregnant belly repeatedly and urgently, wanting to know why they can’t have crackers and juice (communion) for “snack” and when the music is coming so they can twirl with abandon in the aisle. My church is made largely of young families, so I’m not getting side-eye from fellow congregants; they seem mostly amused by my girls’ antics. I am not.

My church has Sunday School during the service, so they could go to class with kids their own age, have all kinds of noisy preschool fun, and eat raisins for snack instead of communion, but I don’t see any theological basis for dividing families for worship this way. I want my littles to feel like part of the larger church body. I want them to know what it looks like to worship with their family (well, with their mama, at any rate) and see Daddy serving as a sound guy. I want them to know how to sit quietly, scribbling on the children’s bulletins provided. There will be time later for interacting with their peers, but this is the time to lay a foundation for fellowship that will serve them for decades to come. I have visions of them sweetly scribbling away, munching on goldfish crackers, perhaps occasionally asking pertinent questions about the sermon in their best “library voices.” Visions that, despite my best effort every week for their entire lives, have remained unfulfilled.

***

That morning, I quit.

(read the rest here.)

ten favorite books of 2018

Hi! I don’t know about you, but I love “favorite books” posts. Also, I hate them, because my “books to read” pile is huge. Beyond that, my list of books to read that I don’t own is ridiculous. At any rate, I love getting other peoples’ favorites, so I try to share mine. 

It’s conveniently (accidentally) split evenly between fiction and nonfiction and they’re listed in no particular order, but if you’re in a hurry, scroll to the bottom because that’s where my favorite ended up.

Fiction

Til We Have Faces: a Myth Retold (CS Lewis)

I made a goal a couple years ago to read more books by dead people. Every time I say that, I feel the need to clarify: the authors in question were alive when the books are written but have died since. The proportion of old books I read is coincidentally reflected precisely in this list: 20%. 

Anyway, this was a gorgeously written adaptation of the myth of Cupid and Psyche, which I wasn’t familiar with until I googled it halfway through the book. 

Artemis (Andy Weir)

This was a read-aloud for Andrew and me. SO FUN. Set on the moon with conspiracies, gangsters, and intrigue, this sci-fi was engaging, funny, and smart. Added bonus: the chapters are longer than they were in The Martian, which made it harder to “one more chapter” our way into the wee hours of the morning.

The Storyteller (Jodi Picoult)

I love me some WWII fiction.

This was set in the presesnt day, but with vivid interviews with an old Nazi. The characters are, in typical Picoult style, quirky and well-developed. I hate to throw in a spoiler (mild as it may be) but I stopped reading her books for a long while because the endings were always devastating. This one didn’t leave me feeling completely crushed.

A Man Called Ove (Fredrik Backman)

Important: I pronounced his name wrong in my head the whole time. I said “love” minus the L. Evidently it’s “O-veh.”

Anyway. It took me a while to get into. Ove is a crotchety old guy bent on suicide, which isn’t usually the kind of premise I gravitate toward. But my friend Lindsey said it was one of her favorites and I trust her, so I plugged along. I’m so glad. His grouchiness becomes endearing and the community that materializes around and despite him is heartwarming.

America’s First Daughter (Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie)

I’m bad at history. I prefer math, where you can derive answers from principles or compute them from formulas. History always felt like a lot of memory work to me, which takes more effort for my brain, and I’m lazy. 

But my brain (much like your brain, I imagine) is wired for story, and when history becomes an engaging story, it all starts to make sense. Historical fiction does that for me. It contextualizes the names and dates so they actually mean something. This is the story of Thomas Jefferson’s daughter Patsy through America’s fight for independence, the White House, and into Thomas Jefferson’s retirement. Fascinating.

Nonfiction

Call the Midwife (Jennifer Worth)

I watched most of the TV series while this was still on my “to read” list, and that served me nicely: I didn’t have to make up the characters from scratch in my head. (The show is well-cast.) The stories are poignant and uplifting… except when they are utterly shattering.

The Broken Way (Ann Voskamp)

Oh, that Ann Voskamp… exploding my brain again. In One Thousand Gifts, she talked about how, in the ministry of Jesus, thanks preceded the miracle. This led me (and much of American Christian culture) to start a gratitude list. I’m almost to nine thousand. In this one, she points out how breaking frequently comes before miracle as well. Encouragement for this broken soul.

Fat and Faithful (J Nichole Morgan)

This confronted a lie I hadn’t examined: “since gluttony is a sin, fat is evidence of sin. Therefore, fat people are living in sin.” There are medical reasons this is BS (if you’re curious, check out Health at Every Size by Carol Bacon) but Morgan addresses the reasons this lie is so especially damaging within the Church.

In Defense of Sanity (GK Chesterton)

This is my second Chesterton (after The Man Who Was Thursday in 2017) and it’s delightful. It’s a collection of sixty-odd essays that vary widely in subject but every one of them is funny and quotable. You know the random party question, “If you could have dinner with any person, alive or dead, who would it be”? Chesterton has become my answer (assuming Jesus is off limits). I read one essay at a time (usually one per night) and always felt far smarter when I was done.

Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles that can Radically Change Your Family (Paul David Tripp)

This was easily my favorite book of the year, and hands-down my favorite parenting book ever. I liked it so much that upon finishing, I immediately purchased copies for each of my siblings and a few assorted others. It is simultaneously the least practical and most transformative parenting book I’ve ever read. I recommend it for three groups of people: parents, believers, and people who need Jesus. Pretty sure that catches everybody.

The thing about this book is the way it filters everything through the lens of the Gospel. I need that in my life. I’ve believed for most of my life that the Gospel was the starting point for Jesus-followers. I’m learning it’s the whole point.

So there it is. My favorite books of 2018. I’d love to hear yours!

Jenna turns 8 (and hits a MAJOR MILESTONE)

Hey, J.

You’re eight today. And this is where, especially with you, the oldest, and Lilly, the youngest, I get a little misty and sentimental about how fast time flies and stuff. And it does fly. And it takes me by surprise even though every single person from the generation before me  has told me how fast it goes. Seriously. Every one. And I’ll probably do the same someday, because it does. (Consider yourselves on notice, Millenials.)

Anyway. I could get sappy or I could give you tips from a version of you that is 28 years older, but today?

I need to celebrate a major milestone.

Last week, you asked if you could make something in the kitchen. You’re always asking if you can do that, and, when I pry into what you mean, it usually involves some bizarre concoction of melted chocolate, caramel, and food coloring. I always say no, because baking with small people makes me crazy, and nobody needs that.

But last week, and I don’t recall why, though it had to be a really good reason, I said yes.

Babe, you made lemon bars (from a box mix) and I didn’t do anything but verbally walk you through the steps. You cracked the eggs, you put the weird crust-powder in the pan, you put the pan in the oven and took it back out (which only caused a tiny heart attack for me every time) and… it was fine. I didn’t need hours alone in my room to recuperate from the chaos. I didn’t spend the whole rest of the day tamping down the urge to snap at all the people (with varying levels of effectiveness). It was… fine. The bars themselves were disappointing to us both, but I feel like that’s Krusteaz’s failing, not yours. They were beautiful and perfectly made. You did that.

I feel dumb writing this. There are moms who bake with their toddlers and love it, for crying out loud. And good for them. But baking with little people is simply not in my makeup.

I guess that’s what I’m trying to say.

You, in that one afternoon last week, crossed from “little” to “not so little” and it astounded me. (Also, you used the word “astounded” this morning with a straight face and it cracked me up.)

You’re growing up just right, Jenna girl. We have our stuff, you and me. Part of us being so much the same is that you struggle in the same areas I do and that triggers all my crap, and I don’t always handle it well. But through all the mess of navigating how to raise a little me, you seem to be doing just fine.

I love you to pieces, not-so-little girl. I’m glad I get to be your mama.

not instagram’s fault

Hey, guys! I’m at Kindred Mom today! Here’s the first part, or you can read it in its entirety here.

It’s a(nother) wild morning at the Chapman house. The big two got up at the appointed hour, but I had a hard time falling asleep last night and a proportionately hard time getting out of bed this morning, so I started the day feeling a little behind as my 6- and 7-year-old chatter away happily and relentlessly. Just when it’s time to get the small two up, I hear a knock at the door.

Whoops! The home visit I thought was scheduled for tomorrow is actually today, and I meet the educator in my workout leggings with a very foul-smelling diaper in my hand. I greet her with the wild-eyed feigned enthusiasm of a mama desperately wishing she’d gotten up early enough for coffee. “HELLO! WELCOME TO OUR HOUSE!” I get a fresh diaper on the littlest and we start the appointment—definitely not tomorrow.

 

This woman is here because my youngest, at two, has lots of words but almost no consonants, so communication with her is a comical and frustrating guessing game that sounds like the Witch Doctor song: “oo ee oo ah ah.” By the time the speech intake is finished, my kids are done. I have given 45 minutes to this stranger, and they are tired of seeing my attention on anything but themselves. Four small people with big voices each demanding my immediate and undivided attention is a little more than this uncaffeinated and unfed mama can handle.

I do the obvious thing: open Instagram.

Ahhh. That’s better. Look at the happy toddler! The pretty flowers! The unicorn costume my friend is making for her preschooler! Well-lit snippets of other people’s lives float past me rapidly, allowing me to tune out the increasingly insistent voices of my children. It’s relaxing. For a second. Then the shrieking begins.


(Continue reading here…)

Baby Brian turns 4 (and loses just a little bit of innocence)

Hey, Brian Levi.

We’ve had a bunch of bath products sitting in the queue to go… somewhere… for  while. We inherited several bags from a friend who was moving around the world on a short timeline. I went through and grabbed what we could use, but I wanted to do something helpful with the rest. You’ve been bugging me for a week or more to take them out of the house. Because, yes, you’re only four today, but also you are pretty detail-oriented and you know those bags do not belong on that cabinet.

So, today when you asked if I could please get rid of the bags, I did it. I called the women’s shelter and got details to donate all the shampoo, lotion, and makeup. I was herding the four of you toward the door when one of your sisters asked, “Mom, what’s the women’s shelter?”

I took a deep breath and explained that, while I am trying to teach you all to always use your strength only to protect, some people use their strength to hurt and control and manipulate. And often the people who wind up getting hurt are women and children. And the women’s shelter is the place where they can go to be safe.

Jenna wanted to know why they can’t all just come to our house. Bless her. If only there were few enough that they’d fit.

You? You came undone. “I changed my mind! I don’t want to take the bathroom stuff out!” You were inconsolable. It took a minute to calm you enough to get to the root of your freak-out.

Precious boy, you have never considered a world where people use their strength to endanger. This is scary. I agree. This world is broken, and it’s sad and frightening. I’m a little sad to disabuse you of the notion that everyone is as safe as you are.

But here’s the thing, buddy.

You have a big heart. A kind heart. A gentle one. You’re strong, and only getting stronger. I need you to know that there are people in this world—your world—who are hurting and need protection. I know you’re going to want to protect all the people, and it’s going to be hard on your heart to be unable to. But here’s where I want you to start:

You.

Use your strength only to protect.

Don’t hurt people around you. Not when they steal your toys, not when your sisters are blocking your way to your room, not later when you are big and you want something that somebody else doesn’t want to give you.

You are made in the image of God.

He is love. He is power. He protects. Jesus redeems and the Spirit empowers, so you can go and love and be strong to protect, too. You’re only four, but I need to drill it into your head right now: don’t be that guy—don’t be the one from whom a girl needs protection. Be the guy who protects the people around him. Be safe for the people in your life. Seek to protect people who are in danger. You are sweet and you are strong and God wants to use your big heart for good.

You’re four today. You have some time to learn all this. But you’re growing fast, and you’re already a force. I’m praying for your heart as you grow and learn to navigate this broken world. You are made to bear light, son. I love watching you learn to shine.

jumping off ledges

I am 10. Perhaps 11. A neighbor through the woods has access to the pool on post. I have seen the high dive before, been both fascinated and worried by it, but on this afternoon, I decide to try. I get out of the pool feeling a little chilly and very exposed. I climb up the ladder that feels solid, but it’s slippery enough to make me nervous. I walk out, feeling the sandpaper and the worrisome bounce of the board. The handrail only goes as far as the pool deck, and my stomach drops as I leave it behind. My toes hang over the end.

I can’t. I scoot to the ladder. Others are waiting their turn at the bottom. I hate that I have to climb back down in front of them, but I can’t go through with this madness. An older guy (I’m a tween, so what this means is anybody’s guess—is he 25? 45? 75?) is on the pool deck, perhaps returning to the locker room. He sees my hesitation and shouts up, “You can do it! Just step off!”

I walk back across the bouncy sandpaper to where my toes hang off. I look down. I still can’t. Again, I sidestep carefully back to the ladder. Old (?) Guy shouts more encouragement. I turn back around to the pool. The kids at the bottom are now shouting some combination of encouragement and “just hurry up already.” I don’t blame them. Embarrassment and determination fight against the desire to not be an inconvenience, which fights against my desire to please my neighbor (whom I idolize) and this kind, encouraging stranger who still hasn’t gone wherever he was headed.

I don’t know how long this goes on. It feels like it was a solid 15 minutes, but could it really have gone on that long? I have no idea. Maybe it is only thirty seconds. Eventually, I step off the board. In my mind, I see me falling off like a rag doll (dropped vertically, thank goodness). The water doesn’t hurt much, but the wedgie is more than I bargained for. On the way back to the surface, I think how glad I am that I have a second to address it before anybody sees me. I feel triumphant for jumping, but embarrassed for taking so long.

I’ve been thinking about this high dive experience lately. I’ve gone off them countless times since. Never anything fancy, mind you, but even now I’ll climb up when I have the chance, just because I can. Exposure therapy is real, and after plenty of dives, I no longer hesitate. My stomach lurches a little, not unpleasantly, and down I go. It’s always the same: a little rush, then the water, probably a wedgie.

I’ve assumed throwing myself on the grace of God would be the same.

I’ve been hurling myself the ledge of failure onto grace pretty routinely for a while now. I’m constantly aware of my sin and my lack. I look around at my little people and see that I can’t guarantee their salvation or even their morality. I can’t even consistently manage to parent adequately. I look at my husband and know, while I love him the best I can, my best falls far short of what I want to give. I’m selfish, and it shows up in a marriage, even if I’m growing.

This failure causes weird spirals basically every day. Sometimes several per day.

I receive another report from another teacher that my kids are creating mayhem. I have no idea how to fix this. I am doing my best, but I seriously can’t try any harder to be consistent, and I’m sure that’s what they need. If there’s some other secret ingredient to raising kids who behave in class (like all the rest of them!), nobody has told me.

I’m taking a shower (always the shower!) and a thoughtless thing I said today or last week or when I was 23 comes to my head and I cringe. I hate that I said that. It sounded so bad, and I didn’t even know. I wish I could undo it. Now there’s not even a way to make it right.

I look at my to-do list. Oh, that’s right. I should do that thing. And also THAT thing. Shoot. All of these things actually need to be done, and sooner rather than later. I straight-up cannot. And I don’t know how to make that okay.

This ramped way up right alongside my limitations earlier this year, and this is a gift. I can’t muscle through and try harder anymore. I actually have to fail.

So I fling myself on the grace of God.

I can’t get it all done, and things are going to fall apart if I don’t. Jesus, HELP. Are you going to make it fit in? Show me what’s not really necessary? Send help? Something’s gotta give, and I can’t give any more. I’m spent.

 

I hate that I said that. Hate how it came off. JESUS HELP. It can’t be unsaid. Can it be fixed? Is it too late? Can I repair it or do I just need to let it go?

 

I don’t know how to make these kids want to make good choices, and they’re being disruptive and I feel like a bad mom, and I feel like everybody knows I’m a bad mom… Jesus, this isn’t mine to fix. I am small. You are large. Give me wisdom to do my best, but my children and my reputation are in your capable hands.

My issue here is that I expect it to be like the diving board: once I make that leap a time or ten, it should be less terrifying, right?

But it isn’t. It still feels like failure. I’m quicker to jump, not because I’m less afraid, but because I have learned hesitation only prolongs the fear.

The outcome here varies. I force myself to recall that I haven’t died of failure yet. Sometimes He fixes it. Sometimes He fixes me. Often, I just feel the discomfort of failure, knowing that His grace is enough, even—especially—when I fail.

It’s so common right now, especially in self-care circles, to see beautiful pictures with the words “You are enough” added over the top. My limitations—my life, really—has been teaching me that this isn’t, strictly speaking, true. And that’s actually fine. I don’t begrudge anyone their “enough” memes, but you won’t see them pinned to my vision board (if I had such a thing) or shared on my feed.

I fail. I will continue to do so. But God has abundant grace for me, for my failures.

I am not enough. But there is grace enough.

 

dear mama: look up

Hey, Mama.

I see you. You’re having the crap day to end all crap days and nothing’s even happening. It’s just normal mom stuff, but all at once. All the kids are yelling at each other and you. You’re parenting like a boss. The goal is calm, consistent, and compassionate and you have at least two of those at all times, but compassion is hard when the preternatural calm is covering rage at the little people who managed to simultaneously misplace their excrement for the entire morning.

You’re doing a good job. The number of times you haven’t used profanity is staggering. Your kids are alive and learning important things, and I’m convinced these days are the most important kind of days for developing their character (and probably yours).

I know this is the part where I am bound by honor and the title of my blog to remind you to look for little gifts of grace around you, because, in the words of Junior Asparagus, “a thankful heart is a happy heart.” I’m not going to discourage this, but I want to acknowledge you might not be there right now. I can huffily list off blessings like clean water and a warm home and healthy children while continuing to daydream about getting an injury that results in a hospital stay for a week or two. Listing off things I should be grateful for in this kind of moment only adds guilt for my apparent ingratitude.

Can I offer you a different gentle reminder?

Look up.

Today, looking around isn’t fixing anything. There are little people all around that you would gladly die for, but today, it feels like they’re sucking your life like The Machine in Princess Bride. It’s extraordinarily slow and painful.

Looking within isn’t any better. There are good intentions and a whole lotta sin. There’s consistent falling short. Looking within today finds shame and self-doubt.

So look up. Do whatever you need to do to fix your eyes on Jesus. Today, my angle was a well-trained Andrew Peterson station on Pandora. I am evidently not good at training my children, but my Pandora stations? Perfection.

The words started to sink in as I continued to go about my painfully ridiculous day. My focus started to rise off the madness, toward the God who loves me and put skin on to be with me. My children were still shrieking, kicking, and sassing. One of them peed in a place that was neither diaper nor toilet. But the goodness and bigness of God started to dwarf the issues I wade through in my home.

Nothing is solved here. A few things have settled because half of my children still nap. (Jesus, thank you for that.) The other two finished school and are rotting their brains on My Little Pony, which is annoying background noise, but less annoying than having my offspring yell at me while I try to help them. It’s better, but it’s temporary.

But I know what isn’t temporary: the character of God. As I keep my focus on him and the things he has done and promised to do and his exquisite care for each of us, my heart settles.

So, while it feels a little trite, I want to remind you to try it if you’re having the worst kind of regular day. He sees you. He knows your struggles. He remembers you are but dust. He is for you. He will glorify himself in all things, including, miraculously, your crappy day.

Look up.